In April 2012, Sara Krish was enjoying life and celebrating her 30th birthday. By July, her world was turned upside down. After a few irregular menstrual cycles, Sara knew that something in her body wasn’t right. She scheduled an appointment with her OB/GYN. During the appointment, her physician took some biopsies.
A few days later, Sara’s phone rang, but she let is go to voicemail. “As soon as I heard my doctor’s voice on the voicemail, I knew something was wrong,” says Sara.
Sara asked her mom and boyfriend to meet the doctor with her. Right away, she was told that she had cervical cancer. Cancer of the cervix, which tends to occur in mid-life, is one of the most common and potentially deadly cancers found in women. Heavy periods, vaginal discharge and pelvic pain may be warning signs, but often there are no early symptoms.
“My doctor went through several treatment options with me,” says Sara. “But I couldn’t hear anything. I was in a daze.”
One of the treatment options Sara was offered was a full hysterectomy, which would take away her ability to have children. “I was in a grieving period right after my diagnosis,” says Sara. “I was grieving the thought of having cancer and the thought of not being able to have children.”
With the help of her family, Sara decided to freeze some of her eggs. She was able to save 18 eggs. “This is where things changed for me,” says Sara. “I stopped focusing on my diagnosis and started focusing on my future. It was a bit of sunshine in what felt like a dark time.”
After her hysterectomy, Sara came to the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Radiation Oncology Center at the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute (TCI) at Long Beach Medical Center for her chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Sara’s surgeon decided to leave her ovaries with the hope of keeping her hormones stable. At TCI, computerized treatment planning systems create 3-dimensional tumor images allowing the care team to design individualized treatment plans that deliver the highest possible dose of radiation to the tumor site while preserving the vital surroundings.
Sara’s multi-disciplinary care team of physicians, radiation therapists, physicist, nurses, social workers and support staffed developed a treatment plan to meet her needs. She received five days of radiation, including one day with chemotherapy, for six weeks.
“The radiation team was amazing,” says Sara. “There were days that were harder than others. On those days, it was my care team that got me out of bed and to treatment. I felt this desire to show up for them. I wanted to make sure I was smiling so they knew I appreciated what they were doing for me. I felt like I belonged to something.”
“Radiation therapy can definitely take a toll on someone’s body, mind and spirit” says Nisar Syed, M.D., medical director, Radiation Oncology, MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute, Long Beach Medical Center. “Sara never let her treatment get in the way of living her life.”
In 2014, Sara hosted her first “Get Lit Yoga Party” on the Redondo Beach pier for fellow cancer survivors. The event had such an impact that it found a permanent spot on the calendar and still occurs every 3rd Saturday of the month.
“I met a lot of other people like me – cancer warriors,” says Sara. “After being approached by several attendees on how they could donate, I decided to create my own non-profit.”
The Cancer Warrior Foundation was established in 2015. Using her experience with cervical cancer, she designed the mission and supporting services from a place of deep understanding along with a strong commitment to help her fellow warriors heal and thrive. The Foundation offers free services that positively impact the mind, body and soul, including one-on-one mentoring, goal setting workshops, workouts, fertility preservation resources and community partners.
“I’ve connected with so many women through my cancer journey,” says Sara. “Each story is unique, but there are always a similar set of needs – more positivity, more life, more hope and more focus on the light ahead. I encourage women to find the light inside them and ‘get lit.’”